Surgeon: Dr. Matthew Gerlach
Physical Therapist: Katharina Altgelt
Reason for orthopedic care: spinal fusion
Alex Shelly is lucky to be alive, let alone walking.
On July 5th, 2014 Alex and her grandfather were vacationing with a group of friends at the St. Anthony Sand Dunes in Idaho.
There were six riders spread across five off-road vehicles, two of the drivers were blinded by the sun and drove off a cliff. “When the light hits the sand a certain way you can’t see the shadows. My grandpa thought the sand kept going but that is when we went off the 20 foot cliff,” Alex explained.
When the vehicle went airborne it also inverted causing it to land on the roof, crushing the roll cage along with the driver (grandpa) and passenger (Alex). When they hit the ground they bounced so hard the vehicle flipped back over onto its wheels.
Alex doesn’t remember the accident, “All I remember was lying on my side,” Alex explained. “I looked down and there was a big gash on my leg. I could see the RZR (vehicle) and I could see my grandpa’s feet.”
The duo waited in the hot sand for help to come. After four hours, Alex and her grandfather were sent to the closest hospital via Flight for Life. They spent the next four days in ICU where both were diagnosed with multiple fractured vertebrae and broken ribs. The driver of the other vehicle was in better condition: she was diagnosed with a crushed jaw.
When the duo was released from the hospital they came back to Colorado and Alex sought out the medical guidance of Dr. Matthew Gerlach. Alex was in a back brace and checked in with Dr. Gerlach every two weeks so he could monitor her progress. “They sent her home in a brace because her vertebrae were stable,” Dr. Gerlach explained. “Putting her in a brace was the right thing to do initially. I continued her in a brace but as time passed her pain wasn’t getting any better and her curve (in her back) was showing progression.”
“My spine had a 60 degree curve,” Alex said. “The curve was originally a genetic issue (known as Scheuermann’s disease) but increased because of the accident… I would eventually have to have surgery (to correct the disease), the accident made that surgery happen sooner,” Alex explained.
On September 3, 2014 Dr. Gerlach fused 13 vertebrae (T2-L2), yet less than two weeks later, Alex insisted she return to her senior year of high school.
Today Alex is out of her wheel chair, graduated high school and is working toward her goal of becoming a hair dresser. She hopes to return to off-roading in the future.
Alex’s grandfather is still in physical therapy; nonetheless his spirits are high and he has returned to almost 100% of the life he had prior to the accident.
*Scheuermann’s disease, or Scheuermann’s kyphosis, is a condition in which the normal roundback in the upper spine (called a kyphosis) is increased. Many people with Scheuermann’s disease will have an increased roundback deformity (e.g. a hunch back or hump back) but no pain. *www.spine-health.com
For more information about Dr. Matthew Gerlach please visit www.FrontRangeOrthopedics.com